5 ways to stop your dog's brain from shrinking
5 ways to stop your dog’s brain from shrinking
For many of us, being bored may seem like a luxury that we envy our dogs for. Getting up at the crack of dawn to get the kids up and out the door, walk the dog at least twice a day, making time for the gym, completing a productive day at work and so on and so forth. Oh how I’d love to be bored! But human prisoners have described the boredom they experience in jail as a torment and a monster. Stimulation is not a human luxury, but a necessity for humans and dogs alike.
Why does it matter if my dog is bored?
Imagine you’re sat around the house on your own every day from 8am until 5.30pm (perhaps longer, perhaps shorter). You have nothing to do. No one comes in to visit you. You don’t have hands, just paws and a strong jaw. You spot a pot plant invitingly sitting in some fun looking muck. So you end up killing time by playing in the fine-smelling soil, or finding out what really is inside that plush cushion or stuffed toy or scratching the soft wood on the door that’s keeping you from seeing your wonderful family – anything to keep the excruciating boredom at bay.
Others may sleep a lot – a sign of apathy which can be a sign of anxiety or just that they are really, really bored. Others howl, whine, bark and yawn – a sign of anxiety and stress.
Animal welfare lecturer Charlotte Burn, from The Royal Veterinary College, observed dogs left alone in houses via a set of indoor cameras before publishing an essay called “Bestial boredom: a biological perspective on animal boredom and suggestions for its scientific investigation.”
She told The Times that “boredom has long been thought of as a solely human emotion but animals suffer from it too. Research shows that being kept in barren environments without stimulation damages the brain, and it’s the same for indoor-reared farm animals.
“Neurones die off if not stimulated, so the brains of such animals tend to be smaller with fewer synapses… Stimulation for animals, like humans, is not a luxury but a necessity.”
The bottom line is that dogs are intelligent animals, some breeds more than others, and they all need stimulation. Stimulation prevents boredom, so left with nothing to do, they seek out ways to entertain their idle paws in ways we often don’t approve of. More importantly, stimulation also nurtures your four-legged friend’s personality and wards off stress and depression.
Is my dog bored?
It may be something we’ve never thought of as being boredom-related, but if your dog is showing any of the below signs, they may be in need of some additional stimuli:
- Fidgety or restless behaviour
- Destructive behaviour, like chewing shoes or carpets
- Pawing for attention
- Digging in the rubbish bin
- Digging up the garden
- Sleeping more than is considered normal
How to help a bored dog
Canine Psychologist, Dr. Stanley Coren, recommends the following as the most important stimuli for dogs:
- Exposure to interesting places and things
- New, exciting experiences
- Frequent opportunities to learn things and solve problems
- Investigating and interacting with objects and the environment around them
If your dog is sitting around the house all day without any of the above, he or she is likely to get bored.
But what do these things mean in practice?
1. Give your dog plenty of exercise
A tired dog is a good dog! Bored dogs often have a lot of pent-up energy that they need to expel. Giving them enough exercise means the same dogs will often be pooped and more likely to spend the rest of the day napping.
Colleen Demling, a Certified Trainer and Behaviourist says, “Making time before work can be hard, but can you imagine waking up full of energy and then having to sit around with no TV, no cell phone, and no way to exercise. Most dogs need at least a 45-minute walk or run in the morning.”
If you can’t walk your dog before work every day, a dog walker or dog day care can help you with scheduled walks and drop-in visits. Find a dog walker near you by clicking here.
Do you have a dog that never stops? If a good long walk still doesn’t hit the spot, a quick session with a Chuckit Launcher or, frisbee can help use up the last dregs of energy to ensure your dog enjoys a lazy day while you’re at the office.
2. Arrange doggy day care
Being at doggy day care for the day gives you dog the gift of socialisation and mental stimulation which will keep them engaged, content and busy. Your dog will have had all the exercise he or she needs for the day and will likely happily sleep the evening and entire night away, dreaming of their fun and frolicks during the day!
Demling says that it won’t only keep your dog happy, but “it could also save you tons of money in replacing your furniture or landscaping.”
3. Make mealtimes a fun experience
Mealtimes can be turned into a game, which in turn can help to keep your dog entertained for hours! You could try a slow feeder dish, stuff some peanut butter or wet food into a classic Kong, or let your dog knock around a treat dispensing ball filled with part of their dinner or small low calorie treats.
“Give the food-stuffed toys to him in the morning and presto — hours of entertainment,” Demling says. She adds, “If you’ve got a real food hound, spread his kibble all the over the house and have him find it. He will spend the morning making sure he’s found every last crumb!”
4. New toys!
Old toys can get boring after a while. Bored dogs will look for inappropriate toys (think chewed electrical wires…), so giving them a variety of dog-friendly toys will help keep them safe, out of trouble and entertained.
Try rotating toys from your dog’s toy stash to keep him or her interested rather than leaving the same toys scattered about day in, day out. This means that once they come back into rotation, they’re brand new again!
You could also hide toys around the house or garden, waiting for them to sniff out and find. Demling says “He will spend time ‘hunting’ for his rabbit while you are at work.”
5. Get your dog a playmate
Bored dogs are often lone dogs. Although it can be a lot of hard work in the beginning with regard to training and the extra cost and pet admin (vets, insurance, microchipping), being a multi-dog household gives your dogs built-in socialisation and stimulation.
Make sure your dogs get along, though as pairing two alpha dogs can spell more stress and anxiety for all involved.